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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 March, 2005, 23:28 GMT
Reporters' log: Ireland row in Washington
President Bush and Irish Prime Minister Ahern with shamrock
President Bush and Bertie Ahern participate in a shamrock ceremony
As Irish people all over the world celebrate St Patrick's Day, the sisters of murdered Belfast man Robert McCartney are meeting President Bush at the White House in a quest for justice.

For the first time in more than a decade, Northern Ireland's political parties are not present at the White House celebrations.

The McCartney family want to dispel any "romantic vision" that Americans may have of the IRA's struggle.

Mark Devenport : Washington : 2303GMT

The McCartney sisters said they were encouraged by their meeting with President Bush.

From the sisters' perspective, you have to take this back to day one when shortly after their brother's death the police tried to search the property of suspects.

The McCartney sisters shake hands with President Bush
The McCartney sisters put their case to President Bush
There were riots that appeared to be orchestrated by local Republicans, and Sinn Fein representatives said the people were all against the police tactics.

There seemed to be the expectation that the McCartney family would keep quiet, but the family has decided that keeping quiet is not the way to yield results.

And to some extent they will believe that they have started yielding results by beginning to speak out on local media in Northern Ireland and now to have moved things so much wider and to gain such political achievements here.

But this is not a campaign about persuading a broad mass of people that peace is the right way.

Ultimately, the goal of their campaign is produce vital evidence to secure a murder conviction in their brother's case.

They face really serious difficulties there.

The physical evidence of the murder was comprehensively wiped clean, and the murder weapon was destroyed.

You are looking in a way to change the hearts and minds of a very small number of people who were at the scene of the murder.

At the moment, that is looking difficult.

Whether that is down to fear and intimidation or whether that is down to the people involved refusing to turn themselves in, that's not clear.

But for this St Patrick's week, the lasting image was not from the White House.

They have a slightly strange media strategy in relation to this event.

The key elements of this event including the President's meeting with the McCartney sisters don't happen in front of television cameras.

But the most striking thing this week when journalists from Northern Ireland suddenly thought to themselves that something with real momentum had happened was when the faces of US politics lined up in that unprecedented news conference in Ted Kennedy's office.

These were people who needed no introduction around the world: Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

To see them all lined up, all singing from the same hymn sheet, all unequivocal in their attitude with respect to the McCartney case, to the broader issue of the need for Republicans to sign up to the police and justice institutions in Northern Ireland and the need for the IRA to go out of business, that was something.

It showed that there had been a concerted change of mood here in Washington.

Mark Devenport : Washington : 2135GMT

The journalistic focus of the events of St Patrick's week in Washington this year was definitely on the fact President Bush met the McCartney sisters.

But more than that, it was a different queue heading into the White House this year in comparison to previous years.

In years past, we have witnessed the likes of Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams in close proximity as they wait to go into the White House.

Instead this year, we saw families who have lost loved ones, not only the McCartney sisters, but also Anne McCabe, the widow of Irish police officer Jerry McCabe who was killed by IRA members in a robbery in the mid-90s.

We saw community figures and a strong element of those who Sinn Fein would probably refer dismissively as Secure-o-crats, in other words security chiefs.

We had the Chief of Police in Northern Ireland, Hugh Orde. We had the head of the disarmament body, Canadian General John de Chastelain, and we had the four-strong independent monitoring commission that keep an eye on paramilitary activity.

That kind of the mixture in the queue is very different than we've had in past years.

It was a very deliberate signal in the White House that the politicians are frozen out, and that they are instead trying to focus on the problems of paramilitary activity.

Above all, the most human face of that are the McCartney sisters.

Gareth Gordon : Washington : 1635GMT

There were two worlds here this week in Washington in terms of the Irish story.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams has called for calm in Washington as he faces political pressure
There is the world in which the McCartney sisters are feted by the establishment.

They get to talk to the political elite. They get into the White House and get to meet with President Bush.

The other world is the one of Northern Ireland politicians, and in particular Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who is not getting in, the perception being that he has been frozen out.

Clearly, there is an onslaught from the political establishment in Washington telling Gerry Adams that if he wants to continue as a credible political figure that the IRA must disband.

But this morning, Gerry Adams was among friends, quite literally, at a breakfast with the organization the Friends of Sinn Fein.

He was greeted as a hero.

Gerry Adams is excellent at portraying calm as everyone around him is losing their heads.

His two fold message was that the media say I am under pressure, but let me tell you I have been under more pressure when people at home were dying.

He told the audience that Sinn Fein will work this through. And the second part of his message was hammering home the importance of the peace process.

Everything must come back to the peace process, he told the audience, and added: "The peace process will prevail."

At the moment, it's difficult. I swing from thinking that Gerry Adams is in deep crisis to thinking he'll come out of this OK.

We're too close to this to tell where it's going to go.

I think there is no doubt he is under pressure in America like never before, but there is also no doubt that he is very good at rolling with punches.

When this week is over and the McCartney sisters have had their big moment.

Ultimately, when they go home, what they want is someone in court for the murder of their brother. Whether they will get that is doubtful.

The political establishment here is calling for the IRA to disband. Whether they will get that is even more doubtful.

Justin Webb : Washington : 1614GMT

The McCartneys have caught the American attention. Their tragic story is being told and Americans are interested in it and understand it.

There is a danger of over estimating how much difficulty this is causing for Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams here. Senator Kennedy did not meet him on this trip but there has been a statement from a group of senators saying they are talking to him.

Matt Frei : Washington : 1320GMT

The McCartney sisters will turn up here at the White House in about an hour's time and will be taken straight to the west wing for the annual shamrock ceremony. After that, the five sisters and Robert McCartney's partner will have a private meeting with President Bush in the Oval Office. We expect that meeting to be a meeting of minds.

But the important thing is that their very personal tragic story has triggered a bigger picture which has put the limelight on Gerry Adams and has broken certain taboos here.

Gerry Adams won't be at White House but last night he had a one-hour meeting with the Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern. Washington are now saying the real Gerry Adams needs to stand up and answer the question - do you, can you, deliver on the disbandment of the IRA?

Kevin Connolly : Washington : 0200GMT

Later today, in what will be an extraordinarily powerful and symbolic moment, the McCartney sisters and Robert McCartney's partner, Bridgeen Hagans, will go to the White House reception.

There they will meet President George Bush and hand him a dossier explaining the circumstances surrounding Robert's killing.

That will be, if you like, the crowning moment of their campaign.

The McCartney sisters seem to have attracted the support of the entire Washington establishment, partly because of the dignity in their bereavement.

But it's also because they've succeeding in crystallising a lot of questions about what was going on in the peace process and about the role of armed republicanism now.

There were a lot of doubts which had begun to play in the minds of Irish Americans.

The McCartney sisters have succeeded in giving voice to some of those doubts, and refocusing the whole debate about why the peace process had lost momentum.





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